Thursday, July 6, 2017

Energy3D turns the globe into a powerful engineering lab for everyone

Fig. 1: Dots represent regions supported in Energy3D.
Many of the readers of my blog may not know Energy3D is, in fact, also a Google Maps application. Energy3D allows users to import a satellite image of a site through the Google Maps API as the "ground image" in its 3D coordinate system, on top of which users can draw 3D structures such as buildings or power plants. Built-in simulation engines can then be used to test and analyze these structures without having to switch to another tool and leave the scene (something known as "concurrent design" in the CAD industry). These engines use large geographical and weather datasets for the site as inputs for simulations to accurately take environmental factors such as air temperature and solar radiation into account. As the climate is probably the single most important factor that drives the energy usage in buildings where we live and work, it is important to use weather data from a typical meteorological year (TMY) in a simulation. If no weather data is available for the site, Energy3D will automatically select the nearest location from a network of nearly 400 supported worldwide regions (Figure 1) when you import the satellite image from Google Maps. The following table lists the numbers of regions in 75 countries that are currently supported in Energy3D. The United States is covered by a network of 164 nodes. So if you are in the United States, you will have a better chance to find a location that may represent the climate of your area.

Afghanistan 1 Algeria 6 Argentina 3
Australia 5 Austria 1 Belarus 1
Belgium 1 Belize 1 Brazil 5
Brunei 1 Canada 10 Chile 12
China 31 Colombia 2 Costa Rica 1
Cyprus 2 Czech 1 Denmark 1
Egypt 1 Finland 1 France 8
Germany 12 Greece 2 Guatemala 1
Hungary 1 Iceland 1 India 4
Indonesia 1 Iran 3 Iraq 1
Ireland 1 Israel 1 Italy 4
Japan 6 Jerusalem 1 Jordan 1
Kenya 1 Kuwait 1 Lebanon 1
Madagascar 1 Malaysia 2 Mexico 3
Morocco 3 Nepal 1 Netherlands 1
New Zealand 2 Norway 1 Pakistan 2
Panama 1 Peru 1 Philippines 1
Poland 7 Portugal 2 Qatar 1
Republic of China 1 Romania 1 Russia 3
Saudi Arabia 2 Serbia 2 Singapore 1
South Africa 5 South Korea 2 South Pole 1
Spain 8 Sri Lanka 1 Sweden 1
Switzerland 3 Tanzania 2 Thailand 1
Turkey 3 UAE 1 Ukraine 1
United Kingdom 5 United States 164 Vietnam 1


Fig. 2: Solar sites in Fitchburg, MA.
Energy3D's capability of turning Google Maps into a gigantic virtual engineering lab has tremendous potential in STEM education and energy revolution. It allows students to pick and choose sites for designing renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions that are most relevant to their lives, such as their home and school buildings (Figure 2). It gives students an authentic tool that supports them to scientifically investigate all sorts of possibilities to design a more sustainable world and effectively communicate their ideas to the public. And, most importantly, with Energy3D being a free tool that anyone can use at zero cost, this can happen at the global scale to engage every student in the world to act now and make a difference!

This global vision is not new. Back in 1995, the National Science Foundation funded my colleagues Boris Berenfeld, Bob Tinker, and Dan Barstow, who were at TERC at that time, a grant to develop a curriculum that they touted as the Globe Lab. The Global Lab Curriculum meant to provide an interdisciplinary, one-year course at the secondary level that supports science standards and school reform through intercultural, scientifically meaningful, and collaborative student investigations in environmental studies. Students were given the opportunity to experience all aspects of genuine scientific research: problem identification, background study, project design, collaboration, data analysis, and communication.

Fig. 3: Solar power plants around the world.
More than 20 years later, technology has advanced so much that we now have many more resources and tools to rethink about this idea. With Google Maps and weather data for countless regions in the world, Energy3D is poised to become a true example of Globe Lab for science and engineering. The integration of the software and our Solarize Your World Curriculum with the current, unstoppable waves of renewable energy innovation and movement worldwide will create numerous exciting possibilities for youth to become truly involved and engaged in shaping their world and their future (Figure 3). While we undertake this grand challenge, it is utterly important to keep in mind that renewable energy does not just stand for some kind of green ideology related only to potential tax hikes -- it also represents trillions of dollars worth of business opportunities and investment in the coming decades committed by almost all governments on the planet to revamp the world's energy infrastructure to provide cleaner air and healthier environment for their citizens. Given this level of global significance, our work will only become more essential and the implications will only become more profound.

As we are mourning the loss of Bob Tinker, one of the architects of the Global Lab Curriculum, carrying on this line of work will be the best way to remember his visions, honor his contributions, and celebrate his life.

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